For many years, I’ve thought of “temptation” in terms of traditional Western Christian vices: thou shalt not get drunk, have sex with thine neighbor’s wife, covet thy neighbor’s ass, steal from thy boss, get mad at thy parents, indulge in eating too much, overspend on frivolous things at thine local mall, etc. Over time, though, these kinds of things gradually became less important. It’s not that they are not important to me. I’m really not into coveting my neighbor’s ass. For real. It’s just that focusing on not doing something is only half the story, if that….Remember that old mind game: “Don’t think about pink elephants.”
Here in Tanzania, I’ve been able to settle into a nice routine of morning prayer and meditation. I love routine. I thrive with some form of structure. The primary prayer of my mornings is usually to follow the outline of the Lord’s Prayer, which includes the line, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
James Finley, as some of you know, is my favorite spiritual teacher. He was a young monk, back in the day, with Thomas Merton, and he is now a retired psychotherapist and spiritual retreat leader. Something that he talks about has really resonated with me over the years. The essence of the spiritual journey is being faithful to our awakened hearts. That is, we have these peak experiences where our eyes are opened to a new way of seeing the world, a new way of being. There are times when we feel like we can see clearly, when the normal, petty concerns of our egos subside and we feel deeply present, centered, and connected with the world and with Spirit. This is our awakened heart, and that’s the good news.
The bad news is that we most often don’t live out this awakened sense. Day-to-day life pulls on us and our egos eventually take back the wheel. We slip into familiar ways of responding, thinking, and being.
“Lead us not into temptation,” for me, has become a prayer to avoid slipping back into the old mental thought processes and patterns. It is a prayer to live in a way that is faithful to my awakened heart. Living in this way, then, is clearly not so much about the “thou shalts” or “thou shalt not.” It is a continual process of coming back to the part of me that has been awakened by God, by love, by Spirit, by truth – daily and hourly, moment by moment. The Gospel of John and the Epistles of John speak directly about this, using the Greek term meno, which is typically translated as “abiding” or “remaining.” Christian spirituality is the daily practice of remaining, of re-grounding, of returning to a calm abiding. It isn’t magic. It also isn’t some esoteric practice for awakened Bodhisattvas or Super Saints. It is a daily, ordinary, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute simple practice of remembering who we are and who we want to be.
“Lead us not into temptation.” To remember. To return to an awareness of the simplicity of our awakened hearts. To live out of this simplicity of Spirit.